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Eyewitness to the 1959 Lhasa rebellion
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Urgent orders directed the militia to immediately take up their battle positions and to remain calm and concentrated, Wang recalled.

Post Office employees immediately reported to the fortified area they had prepared. Some waited by the phone ready to report headquarters. Female employees were put in charge of logistics. Gunshots were heard coming from the western part of the city but there were no signs of attacks nearby.

At about 3:00 in the morning, the Ninth Company, 159th Regiment of the Liberation Army was attacked by insurgents as they reported for duty at Niuwei Mountain on the south bank of the Lhasa River. Rebels also fired shots at the HQ of the 155th Regiment around Norbu Lingka. Rebels near the Potala Palace fired on the PLA Command headquarters, partly destroying the War Office and an auditorium. Rebels also launched an attack on the Qinghai–Lhasa Transportation Station in the western suburbs of Lhasa.

News that the liberation army had repelled the attacks at the transportation station, killing several rebels without suffering any casualties, was a welcome morale boost for the militia members. Just at that moment rebels opened fire on the fortifications from the south side of Jokhang Temple. The militia replied with a hail of gunfire.

Leaders of the CPC Tibet Work Committee and Tibet Military Area Command analyzed the developing situation and realized the reactionary clique had launched a full-scale armed rebellion. Having torn up the 17-Article Agreement, the rebels were threatening the unity of the motherland. The liberation army would have to fight back.

The People's Liberation Army had only two regiments, made up of 12 companies, a total of around 1000 soldiers in the whole of Lhasa. The number of rebels was over 10,000, 10 times the PLA strength. Local commanders reported the situation to the Central Military Commission and a detailed plan was drawn up to launch a counter attack against the rebels at 10:00 on the morning of March 20.

It took one hour for the PLA to capture the commanding heights of Yaowang Mountain, southwest of the Potala Palace, and cut communications with the rebel HQ at Norbu Lingka. The same afternoon, the PLA entered Norbu Lingka and eliminated the main rebel force. The PLA battled rebel forces until 3:00 AM the following morning. In order to protect the cultural heritage of the Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple, the army surrounded the rebels but didn't fire a shot, waiting for them to surrender.

By the morning of March 21, most rebels had given themselves up and left the Potala Palace. PLA continued to search for rebels in hiding and the remaining rebels gradually emerged under white flags. Within two days and two nights, the rebellion was successfully crushed.

"The PLA was highly disciplined in the course of quelling the rebellion and won the wholehearted support of Tibetans and Buddhist monks," Wang said. Over 5300 rebels were killed. The PLA captured 10,000 guns, 180 heavy machine guns, 40 artillery pieces and mortars, over 20,000 shells and 10 million rounds of cartridges. The battle completely eliminated the main rebel command.

On March 29, 1959, "a day that most Han officials and employees in Tibet would remember," according to Wang, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai denounced the rebellion as the work of a reactionary clique, and ordered the PLA to completely crush the rebels. Zhou also dismissed the existing Tibet local government which had colluded in the rebellion, and transferred power to the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region.

In July 1959, the second plenary meeting of the Preparatory Committee initiated democratic reforms in Tibet. "The feudal system was abolished and millions of serfs were emancipated," Wang said, adding that over the following 50 years the rapid development of Tibet benefited all people in the region.

(China.org.cn by Pang Li and Zhang Yunxing, March 9, 2009)

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